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The complete genome of the pea aphid was published in 2010, with help from a team of New Zealand researchers. This 6-year project, involving scientists from 15 countries, could lead to new weapons to fight a major agricultural pest.

The genome contains all the hereditary information of an organism, including its genes and non-coding sequences of the DNA.

Professor Peter Dearden led University of Otago’s contribution to the study. He says aphids are a leading agricultural pest and a biosecurity risk to New Zealand. The vast majority of aphids here are introduced species that often carry plant viruses and have significant economic impacts.

“This genome sequence will improve the biological understanding of these remarkable animals. For instance, this research will contribute towards greatly reducing the economic impact these insects currently have on our agricultural economy, by enabling us to develop tailor-made insecticides,” Professor Dearden explains.

Aphids are capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. When reproducing asexually, a female aphid contains within its body its children, which then contain its grandchildren – telescoping generations.

Aphids also contain bacteria within their bodies, without which they would die.

“While it has a smaller genome than humans, the aphid genome is still 464 million base pairs long, which helps explain why unlocking the genetic secrets of this tiny creature required a giant international scientific effort.”

    Published 2 March 2010